NY cases reviewed over police lab misconduct

AP News
Posted: Dec 17, 2009 5:35 PM

Prosecutors across New York had to review closed criminal cases because a now-dead forensic scientist routinely failed to perform mandatory tests and then fraudulently wrote up results, state officials said in a report released Thursday.

Garry Veeder's misconduct went undetected for years because of "shoddy" supervision at the state police's Forensic Investigation Center, New York Inspector General Joseph Fisch said. Veeder committed suicide in May 2008 during the inquiry.

State police said 44 district attorneys reviewed all 322 criminal cases that included findings by Veeder. Prosecutors found no wrongful convictions, but defendants whose cases were handled by Veeder could file appeals.

State police are hiring an outside expert to conduct a full audit of the crime lab's quality assurance processes, but Harry Corbitt, superintendent of state police, said, "We are satisfied that there were no wrongful convictions, nor any miscarriages of justice."

"The violations reflect an alarming departure from the high standards we expect from every employee of the state Police Crime Laboratory System," Corbitt said in a letter responding to the report.

Fisch's office used outside forensic scientists to review Veeder's 322 cases, all of them from outside New York City. Veeder worked in the Trace Evidence Section, which deals with fibers, impression evidence such as footprints and tire tracks, and volatile chemical evidence from arson scenes.

When Veeder's errors were first discovered, he told state police supervisors that his misconduct was due to poor training and supervision. Officials dismissed those claims, but the report issued Tuesday indicates the problems extended to other people at the lab.

Fisch said Veeder's supervisor and trainer didn't require staff to perform a mandatory test that Veeder had skipped, and he also approved some of Veeder's deficient work.

Also, the scientist reviewing Veeder's work had been officially disqualified from conducting those same tests due to lack of competence.

Nearly 30 percent of Veeder's cases didn't meet lab standards and could directly affect the integrity of the individual trace evidence cases, according to the report.

"Cutting corners in a crime lab is serious and intolerable," Fisch said in a statement. "Forensic laboratories must adhere to the highest standards of competence, independence and integrity. Anything less undermines public confidence in our criminal justice system."

The inspector general also found a case where a former assistant director violated police ethics guidelines by trying to influence a scientist's handwriting analysis in a case the assistant director's brother was investigating.

"This report shows an extremely serious systemic problem with training and supervision in the state crime lab," said Peter Neufeld, a director of the Innocence Project, a national organization that uses DNA testing to free innocent people in prison. "The depth of misconduct, and the systemic problems behind it, make this a national scandal."


On the Net:

Report: http://s3.amazonaws.com/attachments.readmedia.com/ee3ddc7a563711bd3cfaa9da7a7f5329.pdf